"ISO Classical Series Program No. 6
Hilbert Circle Theatre
Though last weekend’s final Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra classical concert of 2006 continued ISO music director Mario Venzago’s season-homage to Brahms, it was his Sibelius that put this concert on the map. Our conductor’s highly moving account of the Finnish composer’s Seventh Symphony dominated the evening.
Many of us still basking in the glow of André Watts’ appearance a week earlier for the Brahms Second Piano Concerto found that he is a hard act to follow. Even the world-renowned violinist-cellist duo Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, here to perform the Brahms “Double” (as everyone calls it), failed to live up to Watts’ standard.
The composer’s late-written Concerto in A Minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 102 is part of the problem. With a quirky first-movement theme, a non-memorable slow-movement melody and a lively-but-slightly-inane Finale motif, the work is simply not up to Brahms’ highest standards. And though Laredo’s violin work was splendid, Robinson’s cello was often covered by her partner and by the orchestra. Even in her solo parts, her instrument seemed muted, devoid of any sparkle. Much of her beautiful playing (and I certainly give her the benefit of the doubt) thus went unheard — at least from the first mezzanine.
Sibelius’ Symphony No 7 in C, Op. 105 (1924) captivated me more than ever before, its single movement made taut and transparent under Venzago’s leadership. He seemed to “surround” his orchestra, voicing those wind and brass parts with a transparent sheen, casting those harmonic transitions and equivocal moods with an inexorable beauty — both of a kind found only in the Finnish master’s most mature style. Venzago must be credited with a higher number of absolute successes this season than previously; this Sibelius was certainly among them.
The program opened and closed with two overtures — a more common practice these days, and not necessarily a bad one. Though Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 was an attractive lead-in to the “Double” Concerto, following the Sibelius with Verdi’s Overture to his opera La forza del destino seemed, in this case, anticlimactic.